April 2012 Newsletter (vol.6)   >>   Raised Bed Gardening

Horseshoe Raised Bed

 

As gas prices and grocery bills keep rising, more and more people are interested in growing their own produce. A trend that has been around since colonial times but is enjoying a resurgence of popularity is to use raised bed gardens. Raised bed gardening is a popular technique for growing plants such as vegetables and fruits, as well as flowers. These types of beds are both functional and attractive in the landscape. There are many factors that go into creating the perfect raised bed; hopefully this article will help give you the tips that you need!

 

The first question that novice gardeners may have is what exactly is a raised bed? A raised bed garden is a garden built on top of your native soil, sometimes incorporating native soil, sometimes not. Raised bed gardens can be contained, such as when you build a wood or stone structure to keep the bed intact, or they can be more free form, with soil and amendments merely piled several inches high, also known as a berm.

 

There are many advantages to using a raised bed vs. a traditional garden.

  • Gardening is made possible on sites where growing plants would otherwise be impossible. Areas that have only rock or poor soil can now be utilized. It is also possible to use raised beds on hillsides which would reduce soil erosion.
  • The soil temperature of raised beds increases faster in the spring, allowing you to work in the soil and plant earlier.
  • Raised beds have better drainage than regular ground level gardens. This permits the plants roots to develop in soil held above water-logged or compacted zones. In wet seasons, the soil will dry out a lot faster allowing planting to proceed between rains.
  • Soil in raised beds does not get compacted like traditional gardens because they are constructed with accessibility in mind.
  • Raised beds are easier to maintain. Since the beds are above ground level, there is less crouching required for watering, weeding and other chores.

 

There are six easy steps to making a raised bed!

  1. Select your site 
    The first step when starting a raised bed is to select the location. In order to do that, you will need to determine what you would like to plant. This will help narrow down the location by either choosing a sunny or shady spot, depending on the needs of the plants you would like to grow. A flat, level area is ideal, but if that is not an option, use the flattest spot that you can find. Although a flat spot is ideal, it is possible to create your garden on a hillside. This would require a bit more planning and materials. For convenience sake, you will also want to make sure that you have easy access to a water source and enough room to work.
  2. Determine the size and shape 
    You will want to make sure that you can access all parts of your garden without having to step into the bed and compact the soil. It is a good idea to keep the width around four feet wide in a detached setting, and no more than three feet wide if you are placing it up against a wall or a fence. Any length will work as long as you keep the width in control. Six inches is a great depth, however ten to twelve would be ideal. You should use the plants that you will be growing as a guide, what do they prefer?
  3. Prep the site
    Once you know the size, shape and depth of the garden you can get started preparing the site. How much prep is greatly influenced by the plants you are planning to grow. To save yourself some labor, use weed barrier to smother the existing vegetation and then put your soil and amendments right on top. However, to ensure that your plants have enough room to grow, it is a good idea to dig out the existing sod and loosen the soil with a shovel or garden fork to a depth of eight to twelve inches.
  4. Construct the bed
    If you want an intact structure, it is recommended to use rot resistant lumber such as cedar or composite lumber. Two by six lumber is perfect, as it is easy to work with and will give you six inches of depth. Cut your pieces to the desired length, and then attach them together to make a simple frame. You can attach them in a variety of ways. You can make a simple butt joint at each corner, pre-drilling and then screwing the corners together with galvanized screws. You can use a small piece of wood in the corner, and attach each side to it. If you are making a berm, you will not need to construct anything.
  5. Level your frames
    Using a level, make sure your frame is level in all directions. This is a necessary step because if your bed is not level, water will run off one part of the garden and sit in another. If part of your frame is high, just remove some of the soil beneath it, and reverse if part of it is too low!
  6. Fill your garden
    With raised beds, you have the opportunity to create the perfect soil. Take this opportunity to fill your bed with topsoilgrowing mediacompost, manure, rice hullsfertilizer, etc. Once you have your bed filled, level it out with a rake and you are ready to plant!

 

Raised beds require very little effort after the first year; however, a little maintenance is needed at the beginning of each spring or fall. It is a good idea to top dress with fresh compost and manure, or if your bed only holds plants for part of the year, incorporate the compost or manure into the top several inches of soil. Mulching will help retain moisture and reduce weeds. You now have a raised bed that you can enjoy for many years to come!

 

Hummert’s Products For Raised Bed Gardening

Dyna Bed Raised Bed Brackets
Dyna Mix Raised Bed Soil
Dyna Green All Purpose Fertilizer
Dyna Mix Nutriblend
Jack’s General Purpose Fertilizer 20-20-20
Yum Yum Mix
Hozon Brass Siphon Mixer   

 

Sources:
“Raised -Bed Gardening”.  University of Missouri Extension.
“Raised Bed Gardens”.  About.com